“Grace builds on nature.” Thomas Aquinas
Faith and Nature
I recently gave several Faith and Nature workshops at the Episcopal Church Women’s Triennial Event in Indianapolis, where people from all over the church came to learn more about how God is at work in nature today. Most of them had little or no involvement with green ministry in the church, but came out of concern for our troubled relationship with the environment. Following Session Three of Faith and Nature entitled “Our Plant and Animal Neighbors,” we began to explore the session theme of “we are one with life on earth physically and spiritually,” with a prayer and some questions:
- How many people like to garden?
- How many people buy local foods from farmers’ markets?
- How many people have a domestic animal?
- How many people enjoy watching wild birds or other animals?
Almost everyone in the audience raised their hands to answer “yes” for each of these questions! This helped us realize how integrated plants and animals are into our everyday lives, in useful ways (food, clothing, shelter, medicine) as well as emotional ways (art, companionship, play). Even so, people spent much more time with plants and animals long ago than we do today in activities such as farming, gardening, and shepherding. As a result, their voices offer deep spiritual insights into how God is at work in nature.
We read these quotes from the Bible and discussed our favorite one:
“When the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between me and all living beings on earth.” Genesis 9:16
“Even storks know when it is time to return; doves, swallows, and thrushes know when it is time to migrate. But, my people, you do not know the laws by which I rule you.” Jeremiah 8:7
“After all, the same fate awaits human beings and animals alike. One dies just like the other. They are the same kind of creature. A human being is no better off than an animal, because life has no meaning for either.” Ecclesiastes 3:19
“Jesus asked, ‘What is the Kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it with? It is like this. A man takes a mustard seed and plants it in his field. The plant grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make their nests in its branches.’” Luke 13:18-19
“All of creation waits with eager longing for God to reveal his children. For creation was condemned to lose its purpose, not of its own will, but because God willed it to be so. Yet there was the hope that creation itself would one day be set free from its slavery to decay and would share the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Romans 8:19-22
Almost everyone liked the Genesis quote the most, and found the Ecclesiastes quote disturbing. Others found meaning in the Ecclesiastes quote as a reminder of how we each play a very small part in the grand scheme of things, and should therefore be respectful of the web of life that connects all living creatures. We are all from one Creator and one spiritual family.
Connecting to the Environment
Then we reviewed how voices from science have revealed amazing truths about the physical interconnections we have with living creatures, including the “common ancestor” that all life shares according to our DNA and genes. The story of our physical evolution from the earliest form of life on earth dovetails beautifully with the Bible’s spiritual view of God’s Creation and our place in it.
We celebrated our relationships with plants and animals and shared ideas on how we can make faithful steps toward renewing nature through some resources to help us on this journey (see below). Everyone left feeling better about the environment than when we started!
As the story of Noah’s ark reminds us, God has made an everlasting covenant with life on earth. God has not left the Creation and never will – even if we forget.
Response from the heart
- Metanoia (repentance)
- Faith and Nature Wisdom Council gathering
Response through action
- Inspire others – create a psalm, book, play, video
- Build habitat for native plants and animals
- Local food – community gardens, farmers’ markets
- Maintain sacred spaces and places
- Mission trips
- Nature and spirituality hikes
- Be a model and become certified by Green Faith
Phyllis Strupp is the author of Church Publishing’s Faith and Nature curriculum and the author of “The Richest of Fare: Seeking Spiritual Security in the Sonoran Desert.”